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The government is considering setting up a centralised ambulance service to be run by National Highway Development Authority (NHAI) across over 140,000 km of national highways, two officials aware of the development.

This is because national highways have emerged as one of the biggest killers, accounting for more than 40% of road accidents a year, said one of the officials.

A national ambulance service dedicated exclusively for carrying trauma and pre-hospital care accident victims along all national highways is therefore considered an important part of plans to make Indian roads safer.

The national crime records bureau says Indian roads accidents claimed 156,000 lives in 2021—or 457 lives per day. According to the roads ministry, there were 366,138 road accidents in 2020 which claimed 131,714 lives and caused injuries to 348,279 people.

“NHAI already runs ambulance services on various national highway stretches built and managed by it. In fact, close to 2,000 ambulances are already deployed on highways. But a need is now felt that ambulances should function as a universal service with quick reaction time," said one of the government official officials quoted above. Both asked not to be named as the plan is still being worked out.

With NHAI having received one of the highest allocations in the 2022-23 budget, investing in the important task of making Indian roads safe should not be difficult, said the official.

The total expenditure on the ministry of road transport and highways for 2022-23 is estimated at nearly 2 trillion—52% higher than the revised estimates for 2021-22. Out of the total allocation to the ministry, the highest (67%) is for NHAI at 1.34 trillion.

As part of the plan, NHAI has begun increasing the fleet of ambulances. It recently procured 200 state-of-the-art ambulances and is looking for further procurement after studying the actual requirement on highways.

In the next step, officials said, a plan will be worked out to create a separate department within NHAI to manage the ambulance service. This department will coordinate with provision and movement of trauma relief services not only on highways managed by NHAI but also those being built and managed by private sector developers.

As per current rules, developers and government agencies managing and maintaining national highways (NHs) have to ensure that patrolling vehicles and ambulances are available 24x7. These vehicles have to be fitted with GPS and vehicle tracking systems (VTS) for rapid deployment in emergencies. Ambulances, patrol vehicles and cranes have to be deployed at every toll plaza.

But road experts say these rules are seldom followed as relief measures at times still take several hours that may become critical in certain cases.

Queries sent to ministry of MoRTH and NHAI seeking details of the plan remained unanswered.

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